Cover Story: Retail With a Greater Purpose
Jewelry and design have always been a part of Carolyn Rafaelian's life. Her father, Ralph, opened a jewelry manufacturing business in 1966. It was there that Carolyn developed her love of design. In addition to designing pieces for her father's business, Rafaelian began to create her own jewelry line. An overpowering sense of belief in those products led Carolyn to start Alex and Ani, the jewelry company named for her two eldest daughters.
Alex and Ani started small, with Rafaelian selling her designs wholesale to retailers around the country. In 2009, five years after Alex and Ani was founded, it opened a single store in Newport, R.I., Rafaelian's home state and where the company is still headquartered today. From its humble beginning has emerged one of the fastest-growing brands in the retail industry. Consider the following:
- sales at the end of 2013 stood at $230 million, representing a nearly 3,600 percent increase in three years;
- profits have increased by 50 times since 2010;
- Alex and Ani now operates 40-plus stores across the U.S. and its merchandise can be found in another 1,500 retail outlets across the globe; and
- the company employs nearly 1,000 people today compared to less than 30 four years ago.
What's driving this growth, according to Rafaelian, is the positive energy behind Alex and Ani's products. In addition to its trademark bangles (a bracelet with a pendant affixed to it), Alex and Ani sells necklaces, earrings, rings and, soon, fashion items such as handbags. Every one of its products is infused with positive energy in three ways. First, the products are manufactured with positive intention in American factories. Second, the symbols featured in Alex and Ani's designs carry their own energy and are accompanied by thoughtfully crafted and meticulously researched meaning. Lastly, each design is positively intended to empower the wearer and reflect the unique qualities of the individual — e.g., it may hold some sort of sentimental value for the wearer.
The value proposition that Alex and Ani conveys to its customers is built on four principles: a commitment to making its products domestically — which goes hand-in-hand with creating jobs; operating as a sustainable business, including the use of recycled materials in its products and electronic receipts at its retail stores; personalization at the product level and across all touchpoints; and empowerment through charity.
Domestic manufacturing: All of Alex and Ani's products are handcrafted at the company's headquarters in Cranston, R.I. "Our dedication to U.S. manufacturing is at the core of everything we do," says Rafaelian, who currently serves as the company's CEO and creative director. "I've made a commitment to my country and my customers to create pieces that I'm proud to put my name on. Re-invigorating an industry in Rhode Island that was almost obsolete is an incredible sense of accomplishment and pride for me."
Sustainability: In addition to using recycled materials for its jewelry, Alex and Ani has implemented an eco-conscious manufacturing process. "We keep a corporate consciousness in mind with all of our decision making," Rafaelian says. "We're always considering and investing in the option that's not only the best product for our customer, but a better option for our world as well. The materials that we use are selected with consideration for the Earth and future generations."